Monday, July 2, 2012


Poetry is an art form that goes back thousand of years, with one of the first poems discovered around 18th Century BC in ancient Mesopotamia, known as 'Epic of Gilgamesh'. It is an art form that has transcended time, cultural and lingual barriers with many poems forming the basic backbone of folk songs around the world. In the words of the famous poet Allama Iqbal, 'A mathematician cannot but a poet can enclose infinity in a line.'

When looking at the history of poetry of our subcontinent, particularly of the Urdu language, many names of famous poets spring to mind. In Urdu language, poetry is known as 'Shayari.' One of the most popular poets or 'shayars' is Mirza Ghalib (1797-1869). It was during his lifetime that the great Mughal empire fell into the hands of the British. Ghalib wrote about these events, society, and also wrote many ghazals which went on to being sung by numerous musicians.

Sir Muhammad Iqbal, popularly known as Allama Iqbal (1877-1938), was a prominent politician, philosopher and poet who proposed the 'Two Nation Theory' on the basis of which Quaid-e-Azam led the independence movement which culminated in the formation of Pakistan. He is treated as a national hero in Pakistan, has been given the title of 'National Poet of Pakistan' and his birthday on 9 November is a national holiday known as 'Iqbal Day.'

Another great Pakistani poet that deserves mention is Faiz Ahmad Faiz (1911-1984). In 1936, he joined the Progressive Writers' Movement and was a proponent of Marxism, going on to win in 1962 the Lenin Peace Prize awarded by the Soviet Union (USSR). Faiz used his poetry as a non-violent way to encourage the case of Socialism in Pakistan, believing it to be the solution of Pakistan's problems.

Hamds, Naats and Sufi poetry have also formed a popular part of subcontinent culture.A 'Hamd' is poetry sung in praise of Allah. A 'Naat' is a piece of religious poetry which is sung in praise of Holy Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) in Islam.  Sufi poetry is one that concentrates on the concept of Divine love for Allah. Some famous Sufi poets include Bulleh Shah (1680-1758) and Baba Farid (1173-1266). A worthy mention is of Maulana Jalalludin Rumi (1207-1273),  who though of Persian heritage, has captured the hearts of many not only in the subcontinent but around the world.

Zahid sharab peene de masjid mein beth kar,
Yaa woh jagha bata jahan Khuda nahin..
(Mirza Ghalib)

Masjid khuda ka ghar hai, peeney ki jagha nahin,
Kaafir ke dil mein ja, Wahan khudaa nahin..
(Allama Iqbal)

Kaafir ke dil se aya hon mein yeh dekh kar,
Khuda maujood hai wahan, Par usey pata nahin..
(Ahmad Faraz)

On a personal level, I have always loved poetry. I was probably introduced to poetry through the ever popular nursery rhymes, though I can't be sure. I loved writing poetry when young as well, and still have copies of my poems published in  'The Young Nation', a weekly children's magazine published by the most popular newspaper of Pakistan back in the day, 'The Nation.' I harbor fond memories of reading and dissecting stanza by stanza 'The Dragon Book of Verse' in English Literature class back in fifth grade. Later on in O Levels I was introduced to all the great poetry of the subcontinent, with my favorite being 'Shikwa and Jawab-e-Shikwa' of Allama Iqbal. There are also great memories of my mother who would sometimes quietly sing 'Hamds' (religious poetry in praise of Allah) whilst going on about the usual house work.

I believe there is a poet in every one of us, and even if we choose to ignore that, poetry plays a prominent role in at least one part of all of our lives, be it history, culture, religion or even music.


  1. Excellent write up with facts about history of poetry. Thanks for sharing.

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